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Planning news - 8 November 2023

Construction workloads decline, reveals survey

A survey has found that there has been a decline in workloads, enquiries and employment for small construction companies during the third quarter of 2023. 

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) pointed to poorly performing housebuilding and industrial and commercial sectors. 

Its latest State of Trade Survey also reported that the repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) sector "continues to remain buoyant", with most FMB members reporting increased workloads. 

The survey for Q3 2023 found: 

  • 40 per cent of FMB members reported a decrease in enquiries.   
  • 39 per cent of members are struggling to hire carpenters, while 35 per cent are struggling to hire bricklayers. 
  • 34 per cent are having difficulty hiring general labourers, up from 25 per cent in Q2. 
  • 50 per cent report that jobs are delayed because they are struggling to hire skilled workers. 
  • 71 per cent of members report that material costs increased in Q3 2023 with 55 per cent expecting this to continue into the next quarter, which is an improvement on previous quarters.   
  • Increased outgoings have led 71 per cent of members to raise the prices they charge, with half reporting that the business is on track to make a loss or fall below expected margins. 
  • More than a quarter report that they are restricting hiring new staff as a consequence of increased outgoings. 

Brian Berry, chief executive at the FMB, said: “The RMI sector remains fairly strong this quarter with more FMB members still seeing an increase in workload than a decrease, but worrying signs are on the horizon with a sharp drop off in enquiries. 

“Housebuilding continues to struggle with more members reporting less workloads than there are reporting more. There has also been a sustained decline in enquiries, suggesting the picture will continue to worsen. Housing is rising up the political agenda as evidenced at the recent party conferences and this new data highlights why the government should be concerned at a time when we need to be building more, and not fewer, new homes. 

“The survey also highlights the continued pressure on bottom lines, with members putting up prices to accommodate for economic adversity and inflationary pressures. Worryingly, we’re also seeing over half of small building companies falling below their expected margins. As the Autumn Statement approaches the chancellor needs to be mindful of steadying a fragile housing market.” 

6 November 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Hertsmere councillors to consider local development scheme

Councillors at Hertsmere Borough Council’s will this week consider a new framework for the borough's local plan. 

A comprehensive report will be reviewed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday 8 November1 and at full council on 22 November, which they have been asked to approve.  

It features a Regulation 18 public consultation to be held in spring 2024 on new and revised key policies and sites for housing and employment, which could be included in the final version of the local plan. 

The local development scheme sets out a new approach and updated timetable for the preparation of the area's next local plan.   

Nik Oakley, portfolio holder for planning, infrastructure and transport, said: “Our new partnership administration has worked closely with our planning policy team to meet our commitment to present a new framework for the borough’s previously 'set aside' local plan. This report, which members will be asked to review at two public meetings this month, marks an important milestone as we chart our progress.   

“This work has been complex, but a priority has been to ensure that we drew on the nearly 18,000 responses that the council received in the consultation run during the previous administration in 2021. 

“The overwhelming feedback then was deep concern over the amount of land that was being proposed for removal from the green belt and being allocated for housing and employment development. We’re committed to ensuring that the new plan places greater emphasis on protecting those areas when setting targets for housing and employment land." 

A report to the cabinet sets out current findings from evidence-based work and any changes in the planning policy landscape that will have a bearing on the content of the local plans and preparation timescales for it. The local development scheme also set out that there would then be an opportunity for the community and other stakeholders in late 2024 to provide their views on the version of the local plan the council wants to adopt, with the submission of that version of the local plan in 2025. It could be ready for adoption by the end of 2026. 

The council's current local plan was adopted in 2013. A draft plan was shelved in 2022 but the plan-making process continued. 

6 November 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Towering bedrooms for sixth-form students in Cardiff Bay

A major student accommodation block in Cardiff Bay, part 18 and part 10-storey, has been given the go-ahead by the city council.  

The building will serve as a boarding house for Cardiff Sixth Form College, an independent school where 85 per cent of pupils are boarders. 

The site is currently composed of undeveloped brownfield land next to the Millennium Centre and Premier Inn. A new L-shaped building will be constructed, with the capacity for 400 pupils and 30 staff, with other facilities including lounges, music practice rooms and a gym. A shop could be built on the ground floor.  

The site is part of a bigger development involving two nearby historic buildings – Merchant Place and Corys Buildings – which are being redeveloped and used for teaching, with an eight-storey building erected behind them. Merchant Place, a grade II-listed building, will be partially demolished.  

2 November 2023 
Roger Milne, The Planner

Green light for extension to Stansted airport terminal

Plans to extend the terminal building at London Stansted Airport have been granted planning permission. 

The decision was made by the Planning Inspectorate because the local authority, Uttlesford District Council, has been designated for major applications since February 2022. 

The application was submitted under s62A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as amended, which allows for applications to be made directly to the secretary of state. 

London Stansted sought permission for the partial demolition of the existing Track Transit System (TTS) and full demolition of two skylink walkways and the bus-gate building. It will construct a three-bay extension to the existing passenger building, baggage handling building, plant enclosure and three skylink walkways and associated hardstanding. This would create around 52,445 square metres of new floor space.   

The airport said the plans will create a more spacious departure lounge, with additional seating, a greater choice of shops, bars and restaurants, state-of-the-art check-in desks, increased baggage capacity and a larger security hall with more security lanes equipped with next-generation scanners. 

Inspector Cullum Parker didn't identify any conflict with the adopted local plan and stated that the plans align with national policies in the National Planning Policy Framework. 

He accorded significant weight to the benefits of the scheme, which include economic growth, as well as improving customer service standards for passengers and airlines. 

A series of conditions are attached to the permission, such as prior to commencement of the development, water efficiency measures associated with the development must be submitted to and approved in writing by the local planning authority. Samples of the materials to be used in the construction of the external surfaces of the development should be submitted to and approved in writing by the local planning authority. 

Gareth Powell, managing director at London Stansted, said the plans "will transform the airport experience for everyone connected with London Stansted". 

“Stansted is now entering a new phase in its history, as we look to serve more passengers than ever before. Our unique and growing route network, and easy access to and from London and the East of England, is a fantastic platform to build on. We know Stansted will have a critical role to play in serving the future capacity needs of London. 

“Being a single-terminal airport enables us to offer the millions of passengers who choose us each year a simple, efficient, and reliable experience when they fly. This is something they clearly value and enjoy when choosing which airport to use, so they can be confident our plans will build on this success and make every airport journey even better in the future." 

In 2021, a panel of three inspectors approved plans to expand Stansted Airport’s annual capacity by eight million passengers and ordered the council to pay costs. In 2018, its operator, Manchester Airport Group (MAG), sought permission to expand its capacity from 35 million passengers a year to 43 million by installing two new taxiway links and nine aircraft stands. The council refused the plans and MAG appealed.  

The decision notice can be found on the UK Government website2

1 November 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner 

Application lodged for weather forecast centre

A planning application has been submitted for a ‘state-of-the-art’ headquarters for the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) at the University of Reading. 

The Government Property Agency (GPA) has lodged the application with Wokingham Borough Council. 

If the plan is approved, the headquarters would create the largest cluster of weather and climate research and operational forecasting facilities in the world alongside the University’s Department of Meteorology, according to the GPA. 

The new headquarters project is funded by the UK Government through the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Designs for the project would be in line with industry-leading net-zero carbon standards. 

Clive Anderson, director of capital projects, commented: “The GPA is delighted to have submitted the planning application for this new state-of-the-art project. The GPA team has been working closely with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and Mace Construction to develop the submission and deliver a modern, accessible, and highly sustainable building." 

It is hoped that a new headquarters will provide new job opportunities and attract long-term investment into the region. 

1 November 2023 
Laura Edgar, The Planner

News round-up

HS2 funding facilitates Lichfield Canal restoration 

A grant of £75,000 from HS2’s Community & Environment Fund has enabled the construction of a 120-metre section of canal restoration by Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust (LHCRT). 

LHCRT started its wider restoration project in 1996, aiming to create a green and blue corridor to help connect the local community with the national canal network. 

The funding from HS2 has enabled LHCRT to build a new section of the canal and improve habitats around the Darnford Brook wetlands, including restoring the existing woodland and hedgerows. Now filled with water, the area is quickly becoming an established and diverse habitat for local wildlife, with a nature trail alongside the towpath which will be open to the public. 

The new section also incorporates ducts for electric boats, which will help reduce the carbon output from diesel boats using the canal in the future. The canal restoration is close to where the HS2 railway will pass over the canal. 

Northern Ireland council seeks development partner 

Belfast City Council is searching for a “suitably experienced” long-term partner to help deliver over half a billion pounds worth of multisite, residential-led, mixed-use developments across the city. 

The city is aiming to welcome an additional 66,000 residents by 2035 as set out in its community plan, The Belfast Agenda. To meet this, an estimated 31,600 new homes will need to be built, with a focus on promoting city centre living as part of the joint vision and an agreed approach for a Bolder Vision for Belfast. 

The council is now seeking a long-term private sector partner to act as a master developer to bring forward sustainable development, with high-quality placemaking and people at its core. The partner will have a “proven track record in successfully delivering housing-led regeneration, across a range of tenures, with credentials in delivering lasting positive social, economic, and environmental impacts, matching the scale of Belfast’s ambition”, said the council. 

Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Ryan Murphy said: “This is a bold approach, in that we’re seeking to bring forward residential-led, mixed-use development across the city. And it comes at a really exciting time for Belfast. We’re the powerhouse of the regional economy and we’re perfectly positioned for investment, with both Dublin and London in easy reach. 

“We’re passionate about creating a more vibrant, more inclusive, and more liveable city centre while enhancing the quality of life for all our citizens. Investment in quality homes, placemaking, connectivity and social infrastructure lies at the heart of that vision. 

“We’ve committed to developing new homes and using the council’s land to help our city grow and thrive. That’s why we’re now looking for a long-term partner who shares our ambition and vision for Belfast and can help us build an inclusive city that works for everyone.” 

Action for Nature funding scheme announced 

Community groups in Wales have been awarded grants from the Action for Nature small grants scheme to boost biodiversity and climate resilience.

The scheme was established in 2021 by the Pembroke Coast Charitable Trust. It offers grants of up to £4,000 to local projects that support biodiversity, create new green spaces, or deliver in the field of conservation or climate change. 

Proposals that have benefited from the latest round of funding include: 

  • A sensory and wellbeing garden in Llawhaden. 
  • A community orchard in the village of Dinas. 
  • A community garden at Simpson Cross. 

Council set to discuss planning documents at meeting 

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet is set to discuss the development of two documents intended to guide future planning decisions at its meeting on Monday 13 November. 

Members will consider two reports relating to the development of supplementary planning documents (SPD). These documents provide more detailed advice and guidance on policies in the council’s adopted local plan. 

The first SPD being considered relates to flood risk and drainage and outlines the approach to be taken to manage flood risk and the impact on the water environment as part of new development proposals. The second SPD report relates to self and custom-built housing.  

OPDC awarded funding to heat London homes 

The government’s Green Heat Network Fund (GHNF) has awarded £36 million to the mayor of London’s development corporation, Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), to harness waste heat from the cooling of several data centres. 

It will provide low-carbon heating captured from data centres into buildings, forming part of a wider £65 million award from the GHNF to five projects across the UK. 

The network is located in the largest adopted Opportunity Area in London, spanning three London Boroughs. Old Oak West, OPDC’s planned new development area, around the future Old Oak Common Station, will deliver more than 9,000 homes and 250,000 square metres of commercial development. 

This scheme is expected to deliver 95GWh of heat across five phases between 2026 and 2040. The Old Oak development will create 22,000 new jobs. 

Meridian Business Park storage facility plans approved 

Blaby District Council has approved plans to deliver an industrial/storage and distribution facility with ancillary offices at Meridian Business Park in Leicestershire.   

National property consultancy Carter Jonas secured planning consent on behalf of Euro Property Investment Limited and its development delivery partner Henry Davidson Developments. 

The 1.38-acre (0.56ha) site is located in Meridian Business Park. The scheme will deliver 21,062 square feet (1,956.74 square metres) of warehouse/office floor space and will create jobs for local people. The end user of the site is yet to be determined. 

Laura Edgar and Prithvi Pandya, The Planner


Our planning news is published in association with ThePlanner, the official magazine of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

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    Planning news - 8 November 2023

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      The Planning Portal is delivered by PortalPlanQuest Limited which is a joint venture between TerraQuest Solutions Limited and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). All content © 2023 Planning Portal.